Division I: CPA Claims Brought by State Not Subject to Statute of Limitations
The phrase et al. means "et alia." Et alia means “and others.” So basically, the case caption reads State v. LG Electronics and Others. Here, the others are a slew of other companies, largely of the electronic variety. So what happened to tick off the State? Well, buckle in, because you’re about to take a little ride on the train known as “issues of sovereign immunity, parens patriae, and statutes of limitations.”
It’s a really nerdy train.
Well, this has to do with the Consumer Protection Act. Under the Act, a claim can be brought either by the consumer or by the Attorney General on behalf of the State. Here, the cause of action related to price-fixing for Cathode Ray Tubes. The manufacturers want the 4 year statute of limitations to apply. However, the statute of limitations only applies to claims under RCW 19.86.090 (the general CPA claim statute that most attorneys know and hold dear), rather than claims under RCW 19.86.080 (the attorney general bringing in what we call parens party (the parent) of the state.
Now, while the federal analog to RCW 19.86.080 contains an explicit 4 year statute of limitations, the state version does not.
Conventional wisdom holds that when the legislature expresses one thing in a statute, "[ojmissions are deemed to be exclusions." Here, the legislature expressly made claims for damages under RCW 19.86.090 subject to the four-year limitation period; it did not mention claims brought pursuant to RCW 19.86.080. Moreover, despite its willingness to amend each of the foregoing provisions—including RCW 19.86.120—the legislature has not seen fit to include actions brought pursuant to RCW 19.86.080 within the ambit of RCW 19.86.120. While not necessarily dispositive of the issue, these facts are problematic for the Petitioners' theory, which relies on an assumption that the legislature unintentionally did not subject parens patriae claims to the CPA's limitation period.
LG and the like still felt that it should be harmonized with federal law. This quote takes the cake and is a nice little expression that state and federal law need not mesh:
[I]t would seem that the Petitioners wish for us to harmonize facially distinct state and federal statutory provisions, which were authored and enacted by different legislative bodies, each of which is beholden to a different electorate. This approach is incompatible with both our legislature's directive in RCW 19.86.920, and the meaning that has subsequently been ascribed to it by Washington appellate courts.
In any event, even had the Petitioners cited to relevant federal precedent, we would still have reason rooted in the CPA to depart from it. There is a noteworthy difference between the manner in which the United States Congress and our legislature have chosen to regulate anticompetitive behavior. When our legislature authorized the Attorney General to bring parens patriae claims on behalf of both direct and indirect purchasers, it unmistakably departed from federal law. The effect of this departure was to ensure that when the Attorney General exercises his authority as parens patriae pursuant to the CPA, the resultant protections afforded to Washington residents will be more robust than those offered by federal law.
I’m sure if Division I had a microphone, they totally dropped it and walked out at that point.
The petitioners also claimed that the general statute of limitations statute did not exempt CPA claims by the attorney general under parens patriae from generalized statute of limitations limits. However, any action for the benefit of the state includes those done generally for the benefit of the state’s people. Parens patriae evolves directly from notions of sovereign immunity.
In this matter, the Attorney General brought an action as parens patriae on behalf of Washington residents. Therefore, in determining the effect, if any, of RCW 4.16.160 upon the Attorney General's claim, we must consider whether the character or nature of the action is such that it involves a duty and power inherent in the notion of sovereignty. The authorities examined herein reveal that the exercise of parens patriae authority is itself a defining feature of state sovereignty, with roots that extend far back beyond not only the inception of statehood but also the formation of the Union. Consequently, we conclude that the Attorney General's parens patriae action isindeed sovereign in nature35 and,hence, is brought for the benefit of the State.
Just because CPA was also delegated in part to the people doesn’t make the parens patriae action any less on behalf of the state. After all, private attorney generals can bring actions on behalf of the state in certain actions.
The lawyers at Issaquah Legal Services are well versed in Consumer Protection Act claims. Let our Issaquah Attorneys help you prevent others from being wronged.